Hubbard Street + Second City
10/16-10/19: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, hubbardstreetdance.com. $25-$94.
Hubbard Street sees the start of its new season as a chance to take itself less seriously. The company is collaborating with Second City’s laugh masters for a performance that combines sketch comedy with contemporary dance. But unlike Second City’s past collaborations, such as the Guide to the Lyric Opera, in which the company simply used the other discipline as the inspiration for sketches, this will be more of a blend of the two arts. The performance centers around three pieces, including one featuring Second City’s Tim Mason and Hubbard Street’s Robyn Minkeo Williams that tells the story of a dancer and a nondancer who fall in love.
When the groups first met, the players had to weather some culture shock.
“When improvisers and comedians get together, it’s very loud, everyone’s talking at the same time. We’re just not very respectful of anything,” Mason says. “Then we go into the dance studio, and it’s very quiet, very serious. What they were doing is so dramatically beautiful that it felt like a completely different world.”
“The biggest challenge in the workshop was for the dancers not to feel like they were wrong in any way,” Williams says. “As dancers sometimes you just want to nail it. This approach is a bit different.”
The longer the performers worked together, the more clear the similarities between their creative processes became. Both disciplines rely on an improvisational jumping-off point, and once that common thread was discovered, the pieces began falling into place. The result will likely have the theatricality and narrative flow of the typical Hubbard Street show, spiked with sketch comedy that, as the show evolves, may even include some classic material from the Second City archives. —Brianna Wellen
10/15-10/26: Wed-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 2 PM and 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 312-386-8905, joffrey.org, $33-$170.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake first opened in 2004 as a special commission for the Pennsylvania Ballet. At the Joffrey this fall, it receives its third treatment. Though the English choreographer’s version isn’t his most acclaimed full-length ballet—that would be this year’s The Winter’s Tale, Wheeldon’s dance adaptation of Shakespeare’s play—his spin on the Tchaikovsky perennial is interesting.
Audience members typically respond intensely to Swan Lake‘s principal ballerina, whose presence is extrapowerful because she plays both the virtuous swan maiden Odette and her wicked double, Odile. But Wheeldon locates the sensuality in the male roles. “It’s not [about] the swans,” says Wheeldon, 41, on break from rehearsals at the Joffrey’s studios. “It’s much more [Prince] Siegfried’s story.”
Placing Siegfried at the center of Swan Lake isn’t unheard of. What makes Wheeldon’s version so compelling is that he effectively designates Siegfried the sole point of entry without tampering with the ballet’s core, the choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The magic is in the framing: beginning the show in a rehearsal studio, Wheeldon traces “the story of how the dancer”—the man who plays Siegfried—”gets to the stage and performs a role.”
But rather than make the action of the ballet a reverie in the dancer’s mind, Wheeldon seeks to show the performer losing himself in the part. “He goes so far in finding his way as Prince Siegfried,” he says, “that he actually becomes Prince Siegfried.” The ballet the audience eventually sees executed is recognizably Swan Lake; it’s the dancer’s immersive fantasy that transforms the studio into the lake.
Wheeldon says he retains Swan Lake‘s traditional elements despite this play-within-a-play conceit out of respect for the material and because he feels a keen obligation to keep the audience onboard. “You have to tell this story. You can tell it however you want, but you have to make it clear,” he says. “Otherwise people are just mystified.” —Jena Cutie
Trade Winds/Aires de Cambio (“Air of Change”)
Thu 10/9-Sat 10/11, 8 PM, Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-369-6600, colum.edu/dance_center, $30.
In 2013, Havana-based troupe DanzAbierta flew into town to perform a piece by Susana Pous on a program split with Jan Bartoszek’s Hedwig Dances. Today the two companies are collaborating on an evening-length work with a key challenge: Bartoszek and Pous had to develop the choreography for their joint effort in separate cities. But the constraint has its upsides. Not only does it jibe with the theme of cross-cultural encounters, it gives the show its form—an imaginary line down the middle of the stage detains the companies in a kind of enforced opposition. They don’t look at each other, don’t acknowledge each other, don’t influence each other, never switch sides, and, except for a couple strategic scenes, never dance at the same time. Instead they trade off, depicting the particulars and universals of their respective cities—dominos, baseball, the passing seasons. The back-and-forth suggests the difficulties of intercultural exchanges: in the shadow of irreconcilable differences, the best one can do is present two versions side by side and hope they merge in the viewer’s mind. —Jena Cutie